Look kindly on them; I cannot bear Severity; My heart's so tender, should you charge me rough, I should but weep and answer you with sobbing; But use me gently, like a loving brother, And search through all the secrets of my soul.—Otway.
Marguerite d'Auray, whose history the reader has become aquainted with, from the conversation between Captain Paul and Emanuel, was one of those delicate, pale beauties, who bear impressed upon their features the characteristic stamp of high birth. At the first glance, from the soft flexibility of her form, the whiteness of her skin, the shape of her hands and tapering fingers, with their thin, rosy and transparent nails, could be discerned that she was descended from an ancient race. It was evident that her feet, so small that both of them could have been placed in the foot-mark of most women, had never walked excepting on carpeted saloons or on the flowery turf of a park. There was in her movements, graceful as they were, a certain degree of haughtiness and pride, the attribute of all her family; in fine, she conveyed the impression that her soul, capable of making any sacrifice she had resolved upon, was very likely to rebel against tyranny; that devotedness was an instinctive virtue of her heart, while obedience, in her view, was only an educational duty, so that the tempest wind which blew upon her, might make her bend down before it as a lily, but not as a reed.
And yet, when she appeared at the door, her features depicted such complete discouragement, her eyes had retained the traces of such burning tears, her whole frame seemed weighed down by such an overwhelming despair, that Emanuel saw at once, that she must have summoned all her strength to assume an appearance of calmness. On seeing him, she made a violent effort, and it was with a certain degree of nervous firmness that she approached the arm chair on which he was sitting. And then, seeing that the features of her brother retained the expression of impatience, which they had assumed on being interrupted, she paused, and these two children of the same mother, looked at each other as strangers, the one with the eyes of ambition, the other with those of fear. By degrees, Marguerite resumed her courage.
"You have come at last, Emanuel! I was awaiting your return as the blind await the light, and yet from the manner in which you look upon your sister, it is easy to perceive that she was wrong in placing her hopes in you."
"If my sifter has become, as she always ought to have been," replied Emanuel, "that is to say, a submissive and respectful daughter, she will have understood what her rank and her position demand of her; she will have forgotten past events as things which never should have happened, and which consequently she ought not to remember, and she will have prepared herself for the new destiny which awaits her. If it is in this disposition that she now comes before me, my arms are open to receive her, and my sister is still my sister."
"Listen attentively to what I am about to say," said Marguerite, "and above all, consider it as a justification of myself, and not intended as a reproach to others. If my mother—and God forbid that I should accuse her, for a holy duty keeps her apart from us—if my mother had been, I was about to say, toward me as other mothers are towards their daughters, I should constantly have opened my heart to her as a book; at the first word traced upon it by any stranger hand, she would have warned me of my danger and I should have avoided it. Had I been educated in the world instead of being brought up like a poor wild flower beneath the shade of this old castle, I should have learned from infancy the value of the rank and position which you speak of to-day, and I should, perhaps, not have infringed the decorum they prescribe, or the duties they impose. In short, had I been tutored amidst women of the world, with their sparkling wit and frivolous hearts, whom I have so often heard you praise, but whom I never knew, had I been guilty of some faults from levity, which love has caused me to commit—yes, I can well understand, I might then have forgotten the past, have sown upon the surface new recollections as flowers are planted upon tombs; and then, forgetting the place where they had grown, have formed of them a bouquet for a ball, or a bridal wreath. But unfortunately it is not so, Emanuel. I was told to beware, when it was too late to avoid the danger. They spoke to me of my rank and position in society, when I had already forfeited them, and I am now called upon to look forward to joy in the future, when my heart is drowned in the tears and misery of the past."
"And the conclusion of all this," bitterly rejoined Emanuel.
"The conclusion depends on you alone, Emanuel; it is in your power to render it, if not happy, at all events becoming. I cannot have recourse to my father. Alas! I know not even if he could recognise his daughter. I have no hope in my mother; her glance freezes me, her words are death to me. You alone, Emanuel, were left to me, to whom I could say, brother: you are now the head of the family; it is to you alone that we are answerable for our honor. I have fallen from ignorance, and I have been punished for my fault as if it had been a wilful crime."
"Well! well!", murmured Emanuel impatiently, "what is it that you ask?"
"Brother, I demand, since a union with the only being I could have loved, is said to be impossible, I demand that my punishment be regulated according to my strength to bear it. My mother—may heaven pardon her!—tore my child from me as if she had never herself been a mother, and my child will be brought up far from me, neglected, and in obscurity. You, Emanuel, removed the father, as my mother did the child, and you were more cruel to him than the case required; I will not say as man to man, but even as a judge towards a guilty person. As to myself, you have both united to impose upon me a martyrdom more painful still. Well, then, Emanuel, I demand in the name of our childhood spent in the same cradle, of our youth passed under the same roof, in the name of the tender appellations of brother and sister, which nature bestowed upon us—I demand that a convent be opened to me, and that its gates should close upon me for ever. And in that convent, I swear to you, Emanuel, that every day upon my knees, before God, my forehead bent down to the stone-pavement, weighed down by my fault, I will entreat the Lord as a recompense for all my sufferings, to restore my father to reason, my mother to happiness, and to pour on you, Emanuel, honor, and glory and fortune. I swear to you, I will do this."
"Yes; and the world will say that I had a sister whom I sacrificed to my fortune, whose property I inherited while she still lived! Why this is sheer madness!"
"Listen to me, Emanuel," rejoined Marguerite, supporting herself on the back of a chair, near which she was standing.
"Well?" replied Emanuel.
"When you have pledged your word, you keep it, do you not?"
"I am a gentleman."
"Well, then! look at this bracelet."
"I see it—perfectly—what then?"
"It is fastened by a key—the key which opens it is attached to a ring, and with that ring, I pledged my word that I would not be released from a promise I had made, until the ring should be brought back and returned to me."
"And he who has the key of it?"
"Thanks to you, and to my mother, Emanuel, he is too far from us to ask it of him. He is at Cayenne."
"Before you are married two months," replied Emanuel, with an ironical smile, "that bracelet will be so irksome to you, that you will be the first to get rid of it."
"I thought that I had told you it is locked upon my arm."
"You know what people do when they have lost the key and cannot get into their house—they send for a locksmith."
"Well! in my case, Emanuel," replied Marguerite, rasing her voice, and extending her arm with a solemn gesture, "they must send for the executioner then, for this hand shall be cut off before I give it to another."
"Silence! silence!" cried Emanuel, rising hastily, and looking anxiously towards the door of the inner room.
"And now I have said all I had to say," rejoined Marguerite: "my only hope was in you, Emanuel; for although you cannot comprehend any deep-seated feeling, you are not cruel. I came to you in tears, look at me and you will see that it is true—I came to you to say, 'Brother, this marriage is the misfortune, is the misery of my life—I would prefer a convent—I would prefer death to it—and you have not listened to me, or if you have listened, you have not understood me. Well, then, I will address myself to this man—I will appeal to his honor, to his delicacy; if that should not be sufficient, I will tell him all; my love for another, my weakness, my fault, my crime! I will tell him that I have a child; that although he was torn from me, although I have never since seen him, although I am ignorant of his abode, still my child exists. A child cannot die, without his death striking some chord within its mother's heart. In short I will tell him, should it be necessary, that I still love another, that I cannot love him, and that I never will."
"Well! tell him all this," cried Emanuel, irritated by her persistence, "and that evening we will sign the contract, and the next day you will be Baroness de Lectoure."
"And then," replied Marguerite, "then, I shall be truly the most miserable woman in existence, for I should then have a brother whom I should no longer love, and a husband for whom I should have no esteem. Farewell, Emanuel; believe me this contract is not yet signed."
And after saying these words, Marguerite withdrew with that deep and settled despair upon her features, which could not for a moment be mistaken. And Emanuel, convinced that he had not, as he had anticipated, obtained a victory, but that the struggle was still to be continued, gazed after her with an anxiety which was not devoid of tenderness.
After a few moments of silence, in which he sat pensive and motionless, he turned round and saw Captain Paul, whom he had completely forgotten, standing at the door of the study, and then considering the vital importance it was to him to get possession of the papers, which the captain had offered him, he hurriedly sat down at the table, took a pen and paper, and turning towards him, said—
"And now, sir, we are again alone, and there is nothing to prevent our at once concluding this affair. In what terms do you wish the promise to be drawn up? Dictate them, I am ready to write them down."
"It is now useless," coldly replied the captain.
"And why so?"
"I have changed my mind."
"How is that?" said Emanuel, rising, alarmed at the consequences which he perceived might arise from words which he was far from expecting.
"I will give," replied Paul, with the calmness of a fixed determination, "the hundred thousand livres to the child, and I will find a husband for your sister."
"Who are you, then," said Emanuel, advancing a step towards him, "who are you, sir, who thus disposes of a young girl who is my sister, who has never seen you, and who does not even know that you exist?"
"Who am I!" replied Paul, smiling; "upon my honor, I know no more upon that subject than you do, for my birth is a secret which is only to be revealed to me when I have attained my twenty-fifth year."
"And you will attain that age?"——
"This evening, sir. I place myself at your disposal from to-morrow morning, to give you all the information you may require of me," and saying these words, Paul bowed.
"I allow you to depart, sir, but you will understand it is upon the condition that we meet again."
"I was about to propose that condition, count, and I thank you for having anticipated me."
He then bowed to Emanuel a second time, and left the room. At the castle gate, Paul found his horse and servant, and resumed the route to Port Louis. When he had got out of sight of the castle, he alighted from his horse, and directed his steps towards a fisherman's hut, built upon the beach. At the door of this house, seated upon a bench, and in a sailor's' dress, was a young man so deeply absorbed in thought, that he did not observe Paul's approach. The captain placed his hand upon the young man's shoulder, the other started, looked at him, and became frightfully pale, although the open and joyful countenance of Paul, indicated that he was far from being the bearer of bad news.
"Well!" said Paul to him, "I have seen her."
"Who?" demanded the young man.
"Marguerite, by heaven!"
"She is charming."
"I did not ask you that."
"She loves you still."
"Gracious heaven!" exclaimed the young man, throwing himself into Paul's arms, and bursting into tears.